Next Up 2020: Gracey
Next Up is a campaign by UNILAD, celebrating some of the most exciting new and emerging music artists in the UK today.
If you haven’t heard Gracey’s name before, you’ll probably have heard her music.
Before branching out as an artist in her own right, the 21-year-old was writing songs for a whole host of other people, such as lending her talents to By Your Side by Jonas Blue and Raye.
And though she could have happily continued behind the scenes, writing for other people and churning out pop bangers one after the other, Gracey, aka Grace Barker, always had the feeling she was meant for the limelight, she just needed time to find what she wanted to say and – as she puts it – what she stood for.
Gracey’s not your average, centre-of-attention scene stealer, though. An artist who understands pop music, its limitless potential and ability to connect with people, she knows what it is to put her experiences into song and make the listener relate to them.
She puts this down to songwriters having a bit of ‘life experience’, knowing what it is to go through something and being able to translate that into something else, something more. As Gracey says, she’s very observant, and very involved in her close friends’ lives, so she finds it easy putting herself in other people’s shoes and seeing things from different perspectives – something obviously useful when it comes to writing songs for other people.
Gracey told UNILAD:
I love writing for other people. I feel like for me, my EP, I have tons of happy songs and tons of songs about different things, but I wanted to make sure ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – my first EP – all fitted together, and they were all about the same, similar themes.
So, when I don’t want to write a song which is a heartbreak song, I can jump into a different artist’s session and write in their world and get into their headspace. It’s something I’ve always loved doing.
Speaking about her observant nature, she added:
I’ll always be really interested in when someone walks into a room – why do they instantly go to that area of the room. My favourite question when I work with producers is: ‘What’s the first chair that someone will sit in?’ I love figuring out why people choose to do things. I’ve always been really interested in it.
Her love for writing for other people, it seems, is only outweighed by her new-found passion for breaking out as an artist on her own.
Explaining how the change came around, Gracey said:
I think I always wanted to do it, but I always wanted to stand for something, I always wanted to have something to say. And when I wrote my first EP, all of those songs came really authentically, and after those songs were written I decided I was ready to venture onto this journey.
It’s quite a lot of stress to get into something unless you’re really – for me anyway – I have to be obsessed with something, and as soon as I wrote those songs I was like ‘I’m ready, let’s go’. I was thinking the other day as well, you’ve got to be obsessed with what you’re doing to want to do it forever. So even if no one listens I’ll be out here trying to write some tunes.
Indeed, even before Jonas Blue came knocking, Gracey was honing her songwriting skills and uploading tunes to the internet.
So I had a Soundcloud, where I would go into my bathroom and record on the floor for acoustics with my guitar, and they were like these 30 second clips of me singing my little original songs, which back in the day were probably about my GCSEs and I was like [singing] ‘I cannot do these exams’.
I honestly don’t know how I got here, they were so bad. But then people heard them and they were like ‘not the worst, come on board’ so here we are. What a dream. What a treat.
Of course, music was never far away as she was growing up. Attending the Brit School as a musical theatre student, it was clear Gracey’s path wasn’t going to be conventional, even by a performing arts school’s standards.
Her early Soundcloud demos caught the attention of writers at Xenomania – a songwriting company which has produced songs for everyone from Cher to Girls Aloud, the Kaiser Chiefs and Pet Shop Boys. She attended songwriting sessions after school, and soon enough the idea of doing anything else was out of the window.
Signing a publishing deal before she’d even graduated, Gracey had found what she was good at, and what she wanted to do, before most people had even begun to think about their future career.
With songwriting for others as a clear focus, and not having experienced the other side of the curtain, it can be a daunting prospect to suddenly step out onto the stage yourself. However, the desire to be an artist in her own right was always bubbling under the surface, and making the transition was a natural step.
Talking about the switch between writing for others and writing for herself, Gracey said:
It depends on the day, depends on the amount of coffee I’ve had probably… I think I find it easy, but it’s definitely a lot easier if I’ve experienced it or if I can tap into something.
My next single that’s coming out is a song that isn’t necessarily related to me personally, but it’s something I’ve tapped into from experiences I’ve had. And I think that’s really key in making sure my music can touch people, because I think music is so special it can connect people and you feel like… You know when you’re a kid and you feel like ‘no one understands me…’ You’re just like so alone in the world and then you listen to tunes and you’re like ‘oh my god I’m not alone’ – that’s how fucking special music is, it’s wild.
Though it’s clear Gracey has drive and a vision for what she wants to accomplish with her own music, the switch from writer to performer wasn’t necessarily an easy one – the title of her first EP, Imposter Syndrome, is enough to tell you that.
With ‘Imposter Syndrome’, the reason I called it that is – going from being a songwriter into being an artist, the first six months of doing it I was like [nervously] ‘hey guys…’ Everyone’s there to get the job done and they’re there for you, and it feels so alien to me. But the more I do it the more I get used to it, it’s like anything.
I used to be petrified to go into a room with a random producer and write a song for someone else, but the more you do it the better you become and that’s been my goal since I released that EP – I’m not an imposter, I’m here for a reason, and if people get my music they’ll really get it, and they’re the people I’m trying to reach and connect to.
With songs like Different Things, a melancholic story that emerged in a half-hour outpouring of emotion, or Easy For You, another naturally emotional song, all minimal electronics and evocative vocals, Gracey comes across as an instinctive songwriter. Pouring her feelings into her melodies, the 21-year-old seems to have struck a balance between her own personality and the ability to connect with an audience. Taking inspiration from songwriters like Julia Michaels, Imogen Heap, Francis and the Lights, and Christine and the Queens, Gracey is keen to keep her individuality while also relating to others.
It’s something that was almost taken away from her last year, having to undergo vocal surgery and spending two months without singing.
Describing it as ‘fucking scary’, Gracey continued:
I hated to think about it. Last year was pretty tough, because when you’re in a position where – for five years you’ve been doing something and it’s your passion and it’s a thing that drives you to get up and drives you – when that’s stripped from you for two months it gives you time to think.
It made me appreciate music firstly, it made me really be grateful for what I do, and how much I love it – not even love but obsessed with it. I love it. I would do it if one person listened to it or a thousand people listened to it.
Having said in the past she didn’t want to start her own project if she ‘didn’t have anything to say’, it seems Gracey has now firmly found that thing, that voice, and the desire to share it with others.
As she explains it:
I just want people to connect more. In a world of social media where you think you’re always connecting with people, you don’t actually stop and ask if someone’s OK, and you don’t actually feel it’s OK to say that you feel shit or you feel rubbish or you feel vulnerable, or if you feel happy.
It’s weird nowadays, if you say ‘I had a sick day’, everyone will just go ‘oh my god, well I didn’t’. I just want people to connect more, and I think the best way to do that is through music.
I say it all the time, music is powerful and incredible, and that’s what I want to say in 2020 – so I’m just kind of saying it.
With a voice like Gracey’s, something tells me people are going to listen.
Listen to our Next Up 2020 playlist here:
Check out the other artists featured on our Next Up 2020 series here.